Federal officials are investigating an incident at Glendale Memorial Hospital in which a woman in labor who sought emergency help was transferred by ambulance to Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, which was not accepting obstetrical patients.
The investigation could result in severe penalties against the hospital and possible loss of its Medicare contract, officials said this week.
"We made a mistake," said William D. Parente, Glendale Memorial president, at a news conference called by the hospital. He said no action has been taken against the attending physician, whom he described as "experienced," because the doctor made a judgment call in the Dec. 1 incident.
Glendale Memorial officials said the emergency room physician decided to send the woman to the county facility, where she had received prenatal care, because the hospital was unable to contact an obstetrician for consultation quickly enough.
Federal officials are investigating whether the hospital shirked its responsibility to help the woman simply because she is poor. The hospital could lose its Medicare contract "if it is confirmed it was a 'dumping situation,' " said Harry Barba, associate regional administrator for the federal Health Care Financing Administration of Medicare. Glendale Memorial, which has 320 beds, has been a Medicare provider since the federal program began in 1966.
The baby was born at County/USC, without adverse effects to mother or child despite the fact that the facility had stopped accepting other obstetrical patients because its ward was full. Glendale Memorial officials apologized Tuesday and announced a series of changes to prevent a reoccurrence.
"We are very concerned that this took place," Parente said. "I take this very seriously. This is not the way we do business at Glendale Memorial Hospital."
A group of eight obstetricians serving the hospital last week volunteered to staff an emergency room on-call schedule that will guarantee their availability for consultation. The on-call schedule may become mandatory for all obstetricians at the hospital, Parente said.
In addition, the hospital is reviewing all transfers from the emergency room, has instituted procedures for emergency room physicians to consult with staff physicians about patient transfers and has named a task force to study and report on the hospital's policy and procedures related to patient transfers, Parente said.
Of the 1,500 patients treated per month, about 30 are transferred for medical or procedural reasons, he said.
Glendale Memorial last week also offered to join a network of private hospitals offering beds for obstetrical patients that otherwise would be sent to Los Angeles County's overburdened public hospitals. The Glendale facility could handle about 40 patients a month out of the 6,000 maternity patients a month that exceed the capacity at County/USC, said Michael Clark, a Glendale Memorial vice president.
In a memo sent Monday to the 700 employees and 420 staff physicians at the not-for-profit hospital, Parente said: "I deeply regret that such a serious mistake was made by this hospital. We will make sure it never happens again."
Results of the federal investigation and recommended penalties are expected to be announced in about a month.